A for American History Do-Over

Eli Whitney invented the Cotton Gin.

In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue…

Rosa Parks!

That’s some 5th grade History name dropping, right there. And because of the way we teach history, by the time those 5th graders make it to college, that is about all they can do with them. They can’t identify why those names are significant, or how they fit into the grand portrait of the country.

And really, how could they? American history is taught in such a convoluted, arbitrary way it becomes meaningless fact lists.

Pop Quiz #1! Who is this? James MonroeThe answer will be at the bottom of the post.

Here is a quick 5th grade history curriculum:

  • Pre-Civil War
  • Leaders
  • Timeline Interpretation
  • Worker’s Rights
  • World War II
  • Hardships (think Depression/Dustbowl)
  • Understanding the Primary Source
  • Civil Rights

Here is one from the 4th Grade:

  • Native Americans
  • Tennessee Political Leaders
  • Early Hardships (Think isolation, man v. nature)
  • Reason for Settlement
  • American Revolution
  • Constitution
  • Slavery and Indenturtude
  • Lewis & Clark
  • John Sevier
  • Revolution
  • Trail of Tears
  • Louisiana Purchase

C’mon, really. You want a nine-year-old to be able to understand taxation, tariffs and the judicial process? Comprehensively??? I don’t mean selecting 1776 from a series of multiple choice answers, I mean understanding. Relating. Extrapolating. Making it “click.”

What do they understand? Classroom voting. The concept of leadership, teams and negotiation. And they know that if they want the reasons behind behavior or rules, they have to ask why.

Why may be the bane of a parent’s existence, but it is the most important question. If we start students with current events, then dig backwards through our history there is a frame of reference, there is a relate-able structure.

If we were to start with this president and work back through Civil Rights to Rosa Parks, then to slavery, then to colonization, there is a framework of understanding.

Pop Quiz #2 – What is the 9th Amendment?

If we start with the making of classroom rules and move out into the community, then into the state, then to the federal level of legislation, the hierarchy and magnitude of the Constitution has some personal relevance, and the concept of the Revolution becomes important.

So let’s turn it around. Let’s begin education with current culture and events, move backwards through time with comprehension.

And the pop quizzes? I’d love a comment letting me know if you got them before you read down this far.

Answer for Question 1 – 5th US President James Monroe, one of the Founding Fathers, and designer of the Monroe Doctrine, one of the most important foreign policy structures in our history.

Answer for Question 2 – “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”  In the culture of Civil rights, this may be one of the most important amendments, and we ignore it.



4 thoughts on “A for American History Do-Over

  1. Lynnette,

    I was able to answer question #2, but as for #1 I think they all look similar in the old portraits….yikes!

    I have questioned the reasoning behind some of the methods of teaching myself. It was not until I was in high school that I fully appreciated American history and was able to ask the proper questions. I have no idea how a child of 8,9 or 10 can possibly construe anything to reference that would make most of it make sense. I think that only comes with maturity and age.

    Aaron Brinker aka DadBlunders


    • Exactly. It seem that if we start with the now when they are little and work backwards in time as they progress, by the time they hit high school kids will have a framework of understanding so they can appreciate history, and ask the right questions.


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